On May 16, 1996 Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda shot himself dead. He was then serving as the Chief of Naval Operations of the US Navy. He joined the US Navy as an enlisted sailor and was the first to rise to this high rank. Admiral Boorda killed himself to spare his service further ignominy when a investigation carried out by the Newsweek magazine found that he was wearing certain decorations on his uniform which he was not entitled to wear. The investigation by a journalist, David Hackworth, revealed that Admiral Boorda was wearing two Combat Distinguishing Devices on the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal service ribbons on his uniform and that he was not entitled to wear them. The Admiral killed himself fearing more adverse publicity for his Navy. He could have waited for official inquiries to exonerate him but he did not do so. He knew what he had done. Accused of an illegal act, he took what seemed to him as a honourable way out.
On February 26, 2014, Admiral DK Joshi, Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy resigned after a spate of accidents hit the navy causing damage to a large number of surface and submarine vessels. There has been plenty of adverse publicity in the media following these accidents and the fear that more lives had been lost in the immediate accident turned out to be the last straw for him. Admiral Joshi could well have taken the other route for this controversy. He could have sacked some fairly senior Naval officers for their failure to exercise adequate control over their fleet. But Admiral Joshi chose to take blame like a Captain of a ship. Like Admiral Boorda, he too felt that his honour was at stake. And while there are debates raging on the culpability of the bureaucrats and politicians, he has left his service proud as indeed left his reputation unsullied.
One cannot but help compared the acts of these two honourable men with what re-course a former Indian Army Chief of Army Staff took when faced by an alleged act of illegality committed against him. Gen VK Singh had been aggrieved fairly early in his career by what he found to be an incorrect appreciation of his date of birth. He correctly represented against the anomaly as he understood it to be and asked for redressal. He did not get any. Ultimately, having achieved a fairly senior rank and finding himself to be well on his way to the highest rank and appointment, he acquiesced. Till be because the Chief of Army Staff.
And then he represented again to the government. A highly debatable act at that high level of seniority, yet he did so. And once again his representation was turned down. Now here was his chance to take the honourable way. If he believed himself to be correct, he should have immediately resigned and shown his commitment for what he believed to be right. But no, he went on to challenge the government in the Supreme Court which led many to conclude that he was running after ten extra months in service.
I cannot interpret this in any different manner but that Gen VK Singh missed the chance to be known as a trailblazer for posterity in the Indian Army. Just as General Thimayya, for all his brilliant qualities, is still remembered more for having withdrawn his resignation under pressure from Nehru, Gen VK Singh, for all his sterling qualities, will also be remembered for having taken his government to court as the Chief of Army Staff.
Men in uniform are synonymous with men of honour. Till they prove it otherwise. Admiral Joshi has proven that he is a man of honour. He has foregone 17 more months in service. He may have been criticized for his handling of the spate of accidents but his final act as the Navy Chief deserves our salute.
Fare Winds and a Following Sea, Admiral.